The Top 50 Albums of 2015

Here it is….Everything Ecstatic’s 9th Annual Best Albums of the Year List. Shouts out to everyone who’s followed along over the years and I’m excited to share the spoils of another year in music witchas. This year, I had to abandon the one album a day for 20-30 days format of the past few years, cause there just weren’t enough hours in the days leading up to this post.  But you can still see all of the archives from ’06 to ’13 here and 2014’s entries beginning here.

At any rate, this year’s list is 50 albums in one post, straight up. Each entry is brief, with some scattered notable videos, links and I made a playlist of all the albums at the bottom. Props to Abhi/Dijon, Drake and Bob Moses, who put out quality releases in 2015, but were the last 3 albums cut from the Top 50. Also, you won’t find D’Angelo on this list as Black Messiah was released on December 15th, 2014. I know some outlets are ranking it this year, but release dates are the only definitive indicator of what year an album belongs to. But ultimately, Black Messiah doesn’t need to be placed on an arbitrary list to validate it’s beauty and importance far beyond a musical context. You can read more of my thoughts on the first performance from D’Angelo’s renaissance here, and know that if it was a 2015 album, it’d be sitting at #2 on this list. With that, let us begin the annual ritual. Enjoy!

50. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

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Hot Chip’s 2012 release, In Our Heads, was our #2 album of the year. Having Why Make Sense? all the way down at #50 doesn’t represent a drop-off as much as it represents Hot Chip’s ability to keep churning out good music for over a decade. They’ve never put out a bad album and this time around they kept exploring new sounds, like the stellar Detroit techno/Chicago house-inspired  “Need You Now.”

49. Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

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Sadie Dupuis’ follow-up to her excellent debut, Major Arcana, is in the same spirit of late 90’s grunge and alterna-rock. This is engaging rock and roll.

48. Young Thug – Barter 6

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I get it now. Took me a while on Young Thug, but dude’s got an incredible amount of charisma, and a unique delivery for a Southern rapper. I can just as easily bump this album with a group of friends who’re trying to feed off each other’s energy at a party, as I can get my solo-dolo emo-rap empowerment sesh on. Real talk.

47. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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Can we just go ahead and give Brittany Howard the credit she deserves as one of the most powerful vocalists in pop music? I shied away from this release, at first cause their sound was packaged so blatantly to the masses. But this is a quality band and Howard is a generational talent. Exhibit A.

46. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

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This album feels like strapping on a virtual reality helmet and frolicking around in some psychedelic world. That imagery is excellently captured in the video for “Boys Latin.” I finally caught Panda Bear live for the first time this year at Treasure Island Fest and the songs off this album blew my brains into oblivion.

45. Joey Bada$$ – B4DA$$

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Yeah, I like that retro rap shit. I’m a staunch late 90’s/early 00’s rap loyalist and Joey’s style is a direct derivative of it. B4DA$$ is a solid debut highlighted by a features from Joey’s hero, DJ Premier, on “Paper Chase” and the hard-hitting “Like Me” with BJ The Chicago Kid, with a must-see video.

44. Shamir – Ratchet

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Shamir succeeded in finally getting indie kids to dance. If there’s ever a critique of indie rock shows, it’s that sometimes it seems like everyone does their best to not move their bodies in favor of the blaisé subtle sway. Ratchet’s dance-pop vibes brought out everyone’s inner Dancing Queen; whether at a show, in the car or at home.

43 & 42. The EP’s – Lapsley and Day Wave

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Day Wave’s Headcase and Lapsley’s Understudy were my two favorite EP’s of the year. Headcase for exploring a bedroom-beachcomber vibe that succeeds on the strength of a quality artist like Jackson Phillips at the helm and Understudy for the young Lapsley’s promising vocals that became my preferred soundtrack for cooking dinner (bougie, I know, but I love dem vibes.)  Lapsley’s “Falling Short” and Day Wave’s “Drag” were two of my favorite tracks of the year. Shout outs to Day Wave for reppin’ Oakland and Lapsley for being on XL Recordings, one of my very favorite favorite labels.

41. DJ Paypal – Sold Out

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Footwork music was pioneered by the late DJ Rashad and his Chicago-based Teklife crew and on Sold Out, Teklife’s DJ Paypal illustrated just how musical this genre can be. Sold Out is filled with hundreds of sounds, ranging from jazz to bounce to hip-hop and beyond, into the year’s most accessible footwork offering.

40. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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Katie Crutchfield’s third release as Waxahatchee is the first of three albums on this list by Philadelphia-based artists. It’s a fine display of guitar driven indie, held up by Crutchfield’s endearing vocals and just a touch of synth.

39. The Districts – A Flourish and A Spoil

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These dudes come from a tiny town in Pennsylvania and seem to be doing their very best to sound like The Strokes, without coming off as rip-off d-bags. “4th & Roebling” was one of the best songs of the year and the expansive “Young Blood” has John Congleton’s calculated production written all over it.

38. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

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Note: We did a “Best Albums of 2015 So Far” list back in July at Paste Magazine and I feel compelled to paste my capsule from that piece on this album below. It stands as an unadulterated take on this album, before NPR called out Bridges for not being sensitive enough to racial progress and sparked a debate on him being soft. I choose to look at the music, rather than place such a grand responsibility on the 26 year old Bridges.

Fort Worth, Texas’ Leon Bridges has brought us back to an era of soul that few have been able to revive with such style and grace. Bridges evokes shades of the great Sam Cooke at just about every turn on Coming Home and the result is simply beautiful music. The album was co-written by Bridges and a team highlighted by Austin Jenkins and Josh Block of psych-rock band White Denim, who’ve captured a classic, lo-fi feel with production from Niles City Sound. From the dashing romanticism of the title track to the gospel of the magnificent “River” closing out the album, Bridges re-introduces us to American soul music forged alongside the essence of rock ‘n roll. And even decades after this special music peaked, Coming Home still manages to be a sign of the times.

37. Lower Dens – Escape From Evil

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Jana Hunter is a one-of-a-kind vocalist and Lower Dens played one of my favorite sleeper sets at the Treasure Island Fest this year. This was a money Baltimore indie release and “To Die in L.A.” was one of the best songs of the year.

36. Ibeyi – Ibeyi

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Ibeyi’s debut release, marks the first time that XL Recordings label head — and iconic music executive — Richard Russell produced and recorded an artist himself in his brand new studio. Ibeyi is an important release for how it furthers indigenous music in the indiesphere, via the Diáz sisters’ native Yoruba language and culture (I profiled the pair back in February.) 

35. Nosaj Thing – Fated

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One of my favorite zone out albums of the year. LA producer Nosaj Thing builds dark electronic atmospheres and his collabs with Chance the Rapper and Whoarei are major standouts.

34. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Going Down

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B’lieve I’m Going Down is my favorite Kurt Vile album since Smoke Ring For My Halo and Philadelphia album #2 on this list. Kurt and The War On Drugs splitting up has gotta be the most amicable split of all time, especially considering Kurt and the Adam Granduciel led War are both are both putting out quality music.

33. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – SURF  

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Yo…this was one of the best hip-hop/crossover records of the year and doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s a really ambitious project for Donnie Trumpet, Chance The Rapper, and company and the tracks are super nuanced; like no rap-centric album I’ve heard before. There’s a track called “Nothing Came To Me” that sounds like it’s right outta Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Real talk. Also, this DJ Booth feature (although wrought with typos) documents all 57 artists (57?!?!) who worked on SURF. It’s an enlightening read that really drives  home how much went into this project.

32. Carly Rae Jepsen – E-Mo-Tion

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I’m not dancing by myself to Carly Rae Jepsen. YOU ARE! (I’ve sorta been waiting all year to say that.) This was my favorite pure pop release of the year and I found myself jumping around like an idiot to it more often than not (Y’all did too. Don’t lie!). It’s fucking sinful and fucking awesome. Can’t wait to dance my face off at her Noise Pop Fest show at The Regency in February.

31. Bully – Feels Like

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Now we’re getting into the “I fucking love this album” territory. This post-grunge/punk Nashville band is led by Alicia Bognanno, who studied audio engineering under the great Steve Albini and she’s responsible for all of the production on this release (That should really be enough to pique your interest.) It’s a quick, punchy and addicting album and they played much of it on maybe my fave KEXP session of the year:

30. – 27. – The Bay Area Hip-Hop Four (Main Attrakionz – 808’s  & Dark Grapes, Jay Stone & Monster Rally – Foreign Pedestrians, Duckwrth – Nowhere, Caleborate – Hella Good)

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I wrote a hip-hop column for the last 12 months in SF Weekly called Moment of Truth (if you’re not already in the know) and it was one of the most rewarding endeavors I’ve ever taken on. I got to discover and get to know artists like these four, who represented my favorite slate of 2015 hip-hop in the Bay and I’m proud that all of this music was made with the Bay Area as its heartbeat. More on these four and a few others in my Top 7 Bay Area Albums of 2015 piece. 

26. Jeremiah Jae & L’Orange – The Night Took Us In Like Family

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Bomb indie hip-hop right here. Jeremiah Jae came up with the Brainfeeder crew and L’Orange is one of the best new producers you need to be up on. Although now LA-based, it’s funny that Jeremiah Jae was born  in Chicago cause much of The Night…, (especially “I Was Invisible Nothing”) is reminiscent of late 90’s Chicago underground stalwarts like Typical Cats and All Natural.

25. BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

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Ghostface Killah was one of my favorite hip-hop humans of 2015 and this album is one of the major reasons why. He brought in BADBADNOTGOOD,  a Canadian jazz trio in their early 20’s, to provide the production canvas for Sour Soul’s Courvoisier-soaked fur coat raps and man did it hit. How cool is that? Wu-Tang is still for the people. Mad love to Ghostface, who passed GZA this year as my #1 Wu-Tang Clan member.

24. Miguel – Wildheart

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Bonerjams. Wildheart is filled with them. But the story behind Wildheart is how Miguel ventured outside of R&B to essentially make a rock and roll record. Wild electric guitars are highlighted from the opening track and unsurprisingly, the sultry Raphael Saadiq-produced “FLESH” was the best moment on the album.

23. Kamasi Washington – The Epic

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The beauty of The Epic, is how Brainfeeder succeeded in making us listen to jazz again. This album is the more traditional realization of the free jazz concepts Flying Lotus explored in You’re Dead! and Kendrick Lamar then further explored in To Pimp A Butterfly (where Washington was prominently featured on the saxophone.) Ultimately, it makes me wonder what other jazz we’re missing out collectively, that’s not being offered up to us by indie media. Either way, consider this is a major co-sign for Kamasi Washington and his aptly titled triple album, The Epic. 

22. Holly Herndon – Platform

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Platform is about the audacity to create music that’s truly a product of our surroundings. Herndon challenges the digital establishment and the permeating culture of civil surveillance in a society that spends the bulk of our waking hours staring at our laptops. Platform has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, “like a leather jacket-clad Kawasaki ride through a Tokyo tunnel in an evening montage scene of a sci-fi anime flick, the authorities chasing the subject as she rides at 120 mph through a beat.” Last year’s video for “Home” is a great place to begin understanding one of the most important musical art projects of 2015.

21. Viet Cong – Viet Cong

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Canadian post-punk with subtle industrial undertones. Some of the most talented musicians I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year, Viet Cong was easily the best early set at Treasure Island Fest. I’ll never forget Mike Wallace’s ridiculous drumming on “Death.” It blew my fucking mind. Also, shout out to my buddy Paul who said “So my album of the year is Viet Cong. That’s my list.” LOLz and stuff, but I totally I get it.

20. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

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This album would be higher on the list if it didn’t absolute wreck me every time I listen to it. It’s gut-wrenchingly depressing, but real AF and a positively extravagant creation by Stevens, who somehow seems to be getting better. His seated show at Oakland’s Fox Theater was a Top 5er on the year for me and I couldn’t erase the idea from my head that he’s beginning to channel the dynamics of Paul Simon. 

19. Grimes – Art Angels

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It’s interesting to me how polarizing Grimes is. I find her to be one of the most incredible pop artists out there. She’s under a fucking microscope at all times, that producing an album with such coherence and awareness as Art Angels, in a constant state of media scrutiny, is a massive feat. She tore everything down at one point and re-booted the project after critiques of her track “Go” called her direction into question. It was a decidedly “Kanye” move and she later told siriusxmu on a podcast that “California” was “actually a hate track for Pitchfork.” I LOL’d and spent my Halloween with Grimes at The Fillmore. She was brilliant and so is Art Angels.

18. Torres – Sprinter

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This is my kind of Americana. Southern born songwriter Mackenzie Scott, details her metamorphosis from a Baptist bred Georgian, to a musician living in New York. But Sprinter is a far cry from the “same old story” that may resemble Scott’s. This is often crude and just brutally honest music.

17. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

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A double debut album for Vince, which just damn tore the entire hip-hop establishment apart. He’s definitively outspoken, an excellent storyteller and throughout Summertime ’06, tackles heavy subjects about life on the Long Beach streets. Summertime ’06 is a mature release from a highly self-aware and well-travelled soul, with one of the best production slates of the year. And, if you’re not following the filter-less Staples on Twitter, you’re doing it all wrong.

16. Empress Of – Me

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Written and produced entirely by Honduran-born Lorely Rodriguez, Me is a benchmark in indie-electro. “Kitty Kat” is one of the most perfect productions of the year and her show at Rickshaw Stop in SF was absolutely mesmerizing. Hoping for way more from Empress Of through the years.

15. Maribou State – Portraits

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This was one of the most sophisticated electronic projects I’ve ever heard. The English production duo are signed to Ninja Tune and Portraits is a meditative exercise for me on every listen.

14. Baio – The Names

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I’ve never heard an album quite like this before. Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio made an album that’s part indie-rock balladry and part electronica soundscapes. He described it best in one of my favorite interview quotes of the year: “I didn’t want it to be the kind of record where you get to the middle point and there’s like, all the ballads…maybe it gets a little boring and becomes a part of the record that the listeners tend to skip over. Instead of doing that, I thought it’d be more exciting to have this banging, mournful, techno instrumental. I really wanted it to be a record where anything could happen and that’s the way I chose to explore that.”

13. Tame Impala – Currents

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This album made a lot more sense to me when I looked at it from a production perspective. Namely that Kevin Parker produced and played every sound you hear on the record, before bringing it to life with a full band for the live experience. This is the proverbial deconstruction album for Tame Impala, where an artist lays out every single personal grievance about themselves and every shred of vulnerability is dissected. The drums on “The Moment” are flawless and kill me every time.

12. San Fermin – Jackrabbit

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I got to know this band intimately when I went on tour with them for 4 days and observed how they prepare, interact and produce their sound for a show every night. The Brooklyn-based 8-piece is a well-oiled machine, who enacts brilliant baroque pop arrangements and songwriting from composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone. San Fermin needs more credit as one of the most unique and complex projects in indie rock. Peep my tour story here and dive into  the conceptual nuances of Jackrabbit through the playlist at the bottom to experience yet another intricately arranged and shining concept album from San Fermin.

11. Dr. Dre – Compton

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This is what a big budget hip-hop production should sound like. I hear so many albums that are done in these bomb-ass studios, but the end product is wack as fuck. I was a total skeptic of this album when it dropped, but damnit if Dr. Dre doesn’t still have the juice. And speaking of who’s got the juice now (“kid”) Compton established Anderson .Paak — featured on six tracks on Compton — as one of hip-hop’s best rising stars. Paak told me in a November interview that “I don’t think there’s anybody that has such a keen sense of vocal production and attention to detail as Dre..” And on tracks like “All In A Day’s Work,” and “Animals,” Dre brings out Paak’s inner soul into some of the best vocals of the year. In that same interview with Paak, you’ll find that the story of his ascent hasn’t come without its fair share of struggles. This tells me that Dre likely saw a lot more than just musical talent in Paak, that made him the perfect fit to tell the stories of Dre and NWA’s history on Compton. 

10. Astronauts, etc – Mind Out Wandering

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This was my favorite Bay Area album of the year. Bandleader Anthony Ferraro produced incredibly arranged music that was enacted by some of the Bay Area’s best musicians. Derek Barber was quietly the best guitar player in the Bay this year, Doug Stuart — who like Barber is also in Oakland band Bells Atlas — was the perfect vocal foil for Ferraro’s high-pitched gentle coos and this album deserves credit for representing the incredible East Bay indie scene of 2015 better than anything else I heard. Curiously, some random internet person made a video of my favorite cut on the album, “Up For Grabs,” set to John Travolta’s “The Boy In The Plastic Bubble.” It rules:

9. The Internet – Ego Death

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One of my favorite tweets of the year was from The Oregonian’s David Greenwald (now deleted it seems?) where he said “The Frank Ocean album we’ve been waiting for has been out for months [image of album cover of Ego Death] .” And while I giggled,  it’s not that big of a stretch, because Ego Death explored a lot of the same romanticism that Ocean did on Channel Orange (my favorite album of 2012). The Los Angeles group led by Odd Future affiliate Syd Tha Kid just garnered a well-deserved Grammy nomination for what I thought was the sexiest album of 2015.

8. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

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My favorite songwriter. There’s nobody more clever than the left-handed and grunge-forward Aussie, Barnett. This was a worthy follow-up the The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas and Barnett isn’t fazed by critically-acclaimed ascent. In fact, she hasn’t lost her whimsy through it all and dropped one of the best lyrics of the year on “Pedestrian at Best,” with the riffy hook: “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you!” She positively shreds on the guitar and also positively shreds as a human.

7. Purity Ring – another eternity

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The most inexplicably panned album of the year. Did nobody else besides me see this as a trap album disguised as an indie electro release? I loved their debut album Shrines, but tempered my enthusiasm a bit. After hearing another eternity, I’m 100% sold on Purity Ring. Megan James doesn’t break stride in delivering the dark, macabre and anatomical lyrics that I love. “Flood On The Floor” was one of the year’s best productions and hearing this album live is a spiritual fucking experience.

Purity Ring.

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6. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

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Where the heck did this come from? Prass’s debut effort effectively put the Richmond, VA indie scene and Spacebomb studios on the map. Her voice is butter smooth, the musicians on this record are impeccable, as is Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard’s production. Natalie Prass brought me to my knees over and over again in 2015. I saw her live four times, the last (and best) was a seated show at The Independent, where a noticeably drunk Prass deliciously destroyed every note of this record in between sips of her drink in a refreshing performance.  She’s in the zone and “Bird of Prey” is my everything.

5. Jamie XX – In Colour

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In Colour succeeded in bringing the unadulterated UK electronic sound to the Western masses. Through it all, Jamie maintained his signature steel drum-laden beat slant on an album filled with drum and bass nods and perfectly plucked guest vocalists in Young Thug, Popcaan, and Romy & Oliver from The XX. His show at Bimbo’s 365 in SF turned a California nightclub into an underground club from London’s Old Street. Few producers as visible as Jamie XX understand the many forms and incarnations of electronic music. He’s one of the best.

4. Hop Along – Painted Shut

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This was the best band I discovered this year. Period. Hop Along is the 3rd and final Philadelphia-based artist on this list and the Frances Quinlan-led band followed up 2012’s amazing Get Disowned with the lyrically rich and musically engaging Painted Shut. This reminded me of discovering Future Islands’ On The Water in 2011 and then going back to hear In Evening Air for a picture of a complete band that was previously off my radar. Painted Shut is on Saddle Creek Records and needs to be in your headphones immediately.

3. Braids – Deep In The Iris

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Feel like I listened to Deep In The Iris more than any other album in 2015. The Canadian trio, led by criminally underrated singer Rapahelle Standell-Preston, fuses indie rock with live instrumentation inspired by drum and bass themes and intelli-tronica synth.  Standell-Preston’s powerful voice and lyrics shine on the nouveau feminist anthem “Miniskirt,” one of the most important songs of the year. The explosive “Blondie” is another standout and prime example of how Braids’ music has evolved on this, their best album to date.

2. DJ Koze – DJ-Kicks

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DJ Koze takes music that we never knew was timeless and makes it so. For this reason, my second favorite album of the year was a DJ mix…But not from just any DJ, but the best remixer in the world. The 50th release in the legendary DJ Kicks series, managed to enlighten me to music from one of my favorite all-time rappers in Phonte (on Strong Arm Steady’s “The Best of Times,”) to one of the most beautifully life-affirming pieces of music I’ve ever heard, in Koze’s mix of Portable and Lcio’s “Surrender.” DJ Koze needs to be in your life, for he’s a miraculous product of the digital generation and he knows it, which makes his output just as fun as it is gripping. I love everything he’s ever done and perhaps none more than his DJ Kicks album.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

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Here it is and as it should be. The #1 Album of the Year for me was always going to be To Pimp A Butterfly. I knew it from the moment I first heard it, ’cause those “bury your face in your hands” moments come but once a year and TPAB’s humanity crumbled me to pieces on the first listen. I lost my shit, ’cause Kendrick is the best rapper in the game and he opens himself up like few ever have.

I want Kendrick to represent hip-hop because he’s the realest rapper out there. I want Kendrick to represent hip-hop because he can churn out singles, but can also make an introspective release whose strength lies in the willingness to showcase his own deepest vulnerabilities and imbalances as a product of his life. I want Kendrick to represent hip-hop becauseTPAB incorporated some of the finest new-jazz instrumentalists in the game and existed in a hip-hop class of it’s own. I want Kendrick to represent hip-hop because he shows a deep awareness for the tumultuous times we’re experiencing in America, and never wavers in his mission to call out the marginalization of the hip-hop establishment that he operates within. I want Kendrick to represent hip-hop because this is where I always wanted the path to lead… To a rapper in the shade of the greats, who crafts his own poetry, and shows that if you forge your art with substance over style, you can still be the freshest motherfucker on the planet. One love.

art by Hamed Hazel
art by Hamed Hazel

Here’s the Top 50 Albums of 2015 playlist below and a direct link to it here. 

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